Saturday, February 21, 2009


Moulding silhouettes
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

October-November 2019

On Wednesdays Myra and Ginny began taking Charlie and Luca half an hour early because Jane had a music student at 2:30. They'd go together to pick up Leah and David, then Mimi at school.

On this Wednesday in late October, after eating apples and walnuts from a produce stand, Ginny said “Oh, pull into that Homo Depot, I need to run in for a sec.”

“Chris's sandpaper?” asked Myra.

A month earlier, Chris had gone out thrift-storing with Ginny and Margie, and discovered a stash of small wooden boxes which seemed to have been used to store some sort of small metal parts in an industrial warehouse. They were battered and had oil stains on the insides, but they were sweetly made of good wood and had never been painted. Chris bought all 21 of them and was slowly refinishing each by hand.

In the evenings after dinner, while Myra was writing and Ginny painting, Chris sat cross-legged on Myra's daybed with a towel in her lap, lovingly sanding the small boxes through a series of progressive grits. Myra had come to find the susurration of this background sound as comforting as Ginny's murmur to her geckos or occasional exhortations to the canvas she was transforming.

When Myra mentioned to Chris her liking this sound, comparing it to wind in grass or gently flowing water, Chris grinned and said “Well, I know now how Keller seems to read your mind about what you're going to do next. You have tells.”

Myra raised her eyebrows. “You mean aside from the chime when I open my e-mail?”

“Yeah, your breathing. When you come out of your writing fugue state. You breathe slowly and shallowly while you write. Every so often you catch up with almost a gasp. But when you are about to shift to another activity, you suck in deep and then blow out with a soft 'hah'. It's clear as a bell.”

Now, in the Homo Depot parking lot, Ginny said “Oh, that's right, her sandpaper. Yes, but also -- “ She turned to glare into the back seat -- “Somebody decided to tug at the loose molding in the downstairs bathroom and broke it off from the wall.” Leah and David both found excuses not to meet Ginny's eyes. “So now I have to try to match it and repair the damage.”

Mimi, guilt-free, said “Can we go in with you? Please, Bubbe – Mommy and Daddy never let us go in this store, we always have to wait in the car.”

Myra thought there was probably a stellar reason for this ban, but Ginny said “All right. Buddy system. Stay with us at all times. And we're not buying anything extra.”

Myra held back her snort at this last sentence. They shepherded their squadron across the nerve-wracking parking lot and through the fun of automatic doors. Ginny, with Lucia on her hip, led them far back to the right, where a wall of decorative moulding came into view.

Lucia was instantly transfixed. She leaned toward the display yearningly, both hands extended, and made a sound deep in her throat. Ginny walked her within reach and watched Lucia's small fat fingers trace the pattern on a complicated scroll.

“It's 3-D, isn't it, Lucia?” Ginny said softly. She looked around at Myra, her eyes very smudgy. “We're going to be a while. Maybe a long while.”

“I guess we could go find the sandpaper -- “ ventured Myra.

“No, I can get that, it's right over there” said Ginny, shifting so Lucia could finger another row of ornate wood. “Go explore. I'll buzz you on your cell when we're ready for checkout.”

Art out of its cage thought Myra. “Okay.” She lifted Charlie to her hip – exploration was risky with his poor impulse control – and took Leah's hand as she asked her posse “Where shall we go first, plumbing, power tools, or gardening?”

She got four different answers, with Charlie suggesting “Toys?”

Myra sighed. “I think we better get a cart.” David pushed his fist into the air and said “Yesss!”

It was over an hour later when Myra's cell rang and Ginny said “I need help carrying, we're still where we were.”

“Be right there.”

Ginny was by the table saw used to trim wood to size. Behind her was a huge mound of moulding segments, in every design possible, cut into four-inch lengths. A young clerk exuding impatience was writing out a charge slip with a multitude of SKU numbers and cut fees.

“Oh, look at those darling plastic cartons you've got!” said Ginny. “The red one with the handles will be perfect to hold these.”

Myra had wanted the red one for her study, but she could come back later. “Where's the sandpaper?”

“Oops.” Ginny scooped Charlie from the cart set, dropped Lucia into his place, and rushed to a nearby aisle. Myra grabbed Charlie's collar to keep him from following Ginny and used her other hand to give the clerk the red box, saying “Will you put all those pieces of wood in here?”

He began transferring them by the fistful, Lucia watching him intently. “What is she, a designer?” he asked, glancing in Ginny's direction.

“That, my good sir, is the world-famous artist Ginny Bates” said Myra. The grandchildren paused in their restless eddy around Myra to listen. “And this is her granddaughter Lucia, who will use your help today to launch training for her own artistic career. She'll be as renowned as Ginny in 20 years, so remember her name, Lucia Bates-Josong. You can brag about it then.”

He looked utterly unconvinced.

Myra later thought he would have changed his mind if he could have seen what Lucia did with those scraps of moulding. Once home, Ginny swiftly assembled a 4 foot square of stretcher and lay it flat on the floor of the living room as a frame, sitting the red box next to it. Lucia was already toddling in her direction and did not hesitate. She began grabbing wood pieces and weaving together an intricate puzzle of raised patterns within the frame.

Ginny lay down on her stomach beside Lucia to watch. Chris, too, settled onto the nearest chair. Myra dumped the trash can full of assorted Lincoln logs onto bare floor at the other end of the living room for the rest of the kids, then got their video camera to film Lucia.

The rest of the world vanished for Lucia, Myra was sure of it. She sucked her lower lip but her face was smooth and seemed lit from within. When she finally stopped rearranging and allowed her creation to sit on its own, she pushed herself upright and looked directly at Ginny.

“I see” said Ginny. Lucia laughed exuberantly. Myra felt a thrill travel up her spine.

“You need a still photo of that” said Chris.

“Digital's in the cupboard by the vacuum” said Ginny. She took the camera from Chris and composed the photos herself, asking Lucia's consent and even persuading her to pose next to the frame for one shot. That photograph, Lucia gazing upward into the lens, her grin from ear to ear but her eyes still a little unfocused, behind her the network of wood patterns seeming chaotic and yet clearly originating from the spark of a human mind – that photo would help define Lucia for the rest of her life.

Gillam wept when he saw the picture. By that time, Lucia had gleefully scattered her assemblage and started over. Chris filmed the later efforts so Myra could focus on the architectural competition of the other children.

Gillam and Jane watched half an hour of the video before asking to take the tape home for copying. Gillam said “Now I know how Zayde felt.”

Myra thought You've got him beat by a mile. But she was glad to have kept silent when Ginny's eyes filled with tears and she turned to melt into her son's arms.

Lucia's red box became the item which accompanied her from house to house, like Charlie's Jerry Bear. Eventually, under Lucia's direction, Ginny stained some of the wooden segments to bring out the grain. Lucia always allowed photos to be made of her final result but resisted any idea of creating a permanent work, even when Ginny explained they would replace any moulding with new pieces.

On Halloween, Myra gave out Butterfingers, Three Musketeers, and Bit-O'Honey miniatures, all of which were on a list of gluten-free candy she'd found. The baby potato costume was folded away in a box, and the children created their own personas from the dress-up box. Except Lucia, who balked at deception.

Once again, Myra pitched a tent by the pet cemetery, lit candles all over the yard, and slept out with the children, this year including Lucia. At close to midnight, Chris crawled up to the tent flap with her buffalo robe over her back and a monster head over her face. The screaming was so intense that Myra was surprised none of the neighbors called the police.

Chris was slowly but steadily regaining her energy and appetite. She was still very thin, and her white hair kept its wave, fanning out from her head in a do that reminded Myra (secretly) of Phyllis Diller. Chris continued her afternoon naps, though they were shorter. Often when she got up, she'd invite Lucia to go “meditate” with her. Lucia would sit on Chris's lap under the buffalo robe, contemplating the whale shark while Chris sang softly in Nimipu. Every so often, Lucia would say “Can I touch?” Chris would stand and carry Lucia to the whale shark, where she'd push her little fingers into every indentation for a while, before they resumed sitting.

Francesca's was doing well in L.A. after a splashy start. Frances wasn't thrilled with her father's management style there, and flew down twice in two weeks to iron out policy, as well as tape a guest chef spot with Ming Tsai. The following Tuesday, Margie came to dinner with Allie and Edwina. During a lull in the conversation, Margie rested her fork on her plate and said “I'd like to talk with you all about Frances and Imani.”

Myra heard Ginny draw in her breath. Margie caught Chris's stone face and said “No, it's not that. They're – the sex part really is over. The fact is, Imani is her right hand, picks up enough slack that Frances can open new places and fly around and take time off with us. And Imani loves how much Frances leans on her. But Franny says she's good enough now, she should be in charge of her own place. She doesn't have the money or influence yet to get one, except...well, wherever Frances decides to open the next store, either one in this area, or San Fran, or New York, she could give it to Imani to plan and staff, be the head chef, and it would solidify Imani's career. Frances says she deserves it.”

“Wow. High praise from Frances” said Allie.

“Yeah. The hitch is that if Imani peels off, then Frances will have to move someone else up into that slot, and the next in line at the store here isn't up to snuff, not for that level of trust. She could bring in someone new, if she can find them, but that will mean months of training and – well, the deal is that if Imani goes, Frances' free time will diminish. Or maybe vanish.”

“Ah” said Edwina. “So does Frances do what's best for Imani or best for Frances?”

“In a nutshell. She asked me what I thought and I said I had to think it over. Honestly, I don't feel – pressure, I guess you'd call it, about Imani any more. She's really good for Frances. I kinda don't want her to go. But I know that's selfish.” Margie resumed eating.

Ginny was looking at her speculatively.

“You could say just that to Frances. In the end, it's her decision” said Myra. “I bet she simply wants to know where your emotions reside around it all now.”

Margie nodded, considering this.

“If she opened up a second store in this area, where would it be?” asked Allie. “I mean, she's got the pizza franchise in my neighborhood.”

“She's thought about Bainbridge, for a high-end clientele. Or going to Olympia, for the same kind of mix she's got here. She's actually hired a research firm, we'll be able to use that data when it comes in to make a better decision” said Margie.

“When does the Ming Tsai show air?” asked Myra, feeling eager.

“Not till the spring. She created a glaze for Arctic char of a pomegranate reduction with Spanish pimenton, she said it made his eyes roll back in his head. That recipe's going on the menu at the store. Check it out next time you're in there” said Margie.

“You bet I will” said Ginny.

The next day, while the grandchildren were over, disaster struck. Margie had an appointment in the morning and no time to come home for lunch and dog-walking, so Moon and Gidg were spending the day with Myra and Ginny. The children worked in the garden a while with Ginny, and when they came back in, they discovered that Jerry Bear, left on the floor by Charlie despite repeated warnings, had been reduced to fragments by Moon. In fact, Moon was still chewing on one of Jerry's ears.

Charlie went into hysterics. Chris held him and rocked him while Myra swept up the remains of Jerry Bear, saving his button eyes and the scrap that held his nose in a drawer. Charlie didn't want to play with the other children, even after he stopped crying. He went through another bout of wild weeping when Jane and Gillam came to lead them home, but there was no Jerry Bear to accompany him.

“Where did Thad get it, do you know?” Myra whispered to Jane. Thad had given each of the children a special plush animal companion at their birth – an elephant for Mimi, a giraffe for David, Leah's purple pig, and Lucia's cheetah, in addition to Jerry Bear.

“I'm not sure. I think he ordered them from some specialty shop online” said Jane.

As they left, Charlie turned and aimed a kick at Moon, suddenly screaming “Bad dog!” Gillam scooped Charlie up and said “No, we don't yell at creatures who can't understand. He didn't know it was wrong to chew up a toy left on the floor.” Charlie sobbed his fury onto Gillam's shoulder. They could hear him even after the gate was closed.

“Tough lesson” commented Chris. Moon was rattled and leaning his neck against Myra's knee. She rubbed his ears and said “S'all right, you're still indispensable to our pack.”

That Sunday, Jane and Gillam brought the kids for lunch after Quaker Meeting. Allie and Edwina were there as well. Margie and Frances stopped by with the dogs, but didn't stay to eat because they had plans with friends. Charlie gave Moon the evil eye, and Moon was glad to depart.

After the children had done their share of clean-up and scattered into the rest of the house, Mimi returned to the kitchen and said to Myra “Gramma, one of the dogs pooped in the living room.”

“Oh, no” said Myra, grabbed a handful of paper towels. Jane was emerging from the bathroom off the living room with Lucia, who was just starting to learn the potty dance, and she looked at where Mimi was pointing to Myra. She said 'Hang on.” She turned and yelled ominously “Charlie Gillam Bates-Josong! Come here this instant!”

Ginny later said Charlie froze in his tracks and couldn't seem to move. She leaned over and whispered “Come on, I'll walk with you”, accompanying him to where Jane stood next to the small pile of turds.

“Charlie, who crapped here?” Jane demanded.

“Moon” he said, eyes wide.

“I don't think so. In fact, I happen to know that's your crap. So not only did you dump in your grandmothers' living room, you tried to lie to me about it. Is that about right?” Jane's voice was hard as diamonds.

“It's Moon's fault” he tried again. Jane took the paper towels from Myra's hand and said “Zip it, Charlie. You are going to clean this up, and then you're going to apologize to your grandmothers, and then you're going to sit in time-out.”

He began crying, but she was relentless. The clean-up process got him smeared with feces as well, and after she scrubbed his hands, he was marched to Myra, Ginny, and Chris in turn to say he was sorry, that he would never do it again. He was still crying softly when she plopped him onto the stairs and glanced at the clock.

When she returned to the kitchen, Ginny whispered “I only had two kids, but I could never have told their poop apart like that. You have quite the eye.”

“I caught him sneaking Cheetos in the pantry this morning” confided Jane. “There were bright orange chunks in that mess, it was a giveaway. Otherwise, no, I'm not a magic shit detector.”

Allie and Chris roared. When Charlie's punishment time was up, Allie asked if she could be the one to relieve him and Jane nodded. They walked outside, Charlie pressed against Allie's chest, as Allie asked him if he was trying to get Moon in trouble on purpose.

“He was bad, Aunt Allie. He killed Jerry Bear, and nobody punished him” said Charlie in still-raw outrage.

“He honestly didn't know what he was doing was bad” said Allie.

“I miss Jerry Bear so much” said Charlie, starting to cry again. Allie said “You know what? I'm not much on a sewing machine, but your Grandma Myra is, and I think we could maybe make another Jerry Bear. How's about if you and me go to the fabric store, look for a pattern and the right kind of fur, and help Myra bring Jerry Bear back to life?”

It became the afternoon project. Allie and Chris cut out plush pieces and helped stuff arms and legs. Ginny painted a label with indelible markers which read “Jerry Bear, returned to life 10 November 2019, soulmate of Charlie G.B-J”. Edwina sewed this onto the bottom of the new Jerry's foot. At the end, Myra pulled the previous Jerry eyes and nose from the drawer and attached them to his new incarnation, declaring “Now he can see you again!”

Charlie's face was worth all the effort. That night, Chris glued together a small chair from slats they used as garden stakes, painting it a glossy green. When Charlie and Jerry Bear arrived the next afternoon, Chris set the chair on a shelf out of dog reach and said “When you're not holding Jerry Bear, he wants to sit in his chair, where he can watch what's going on and be safe from any danger.” With a few reminders, Charlie learned to keep Jerry in his new digs.

That night, Chris said “Pretty devious. That plot against Moon.”

“Yeah. Gives a new dimension to Charlie, don't it?” agreed Myra.

The following day was Chris's birthday. She asked to have her party that night instead of on the weekend. Myra thought this was probably to keep herself surrounded on the day when she'd be missing Sima the most. That morning at breakfast, Chris said to Myra and Ginny “I wrote her.”

“Who? Sima?”

“Yeah. I mailed it on Friday. She'll get it tomorrow or the next day. I decided I didn't want to give her the power any more. I didn't want to wait on what she might or might not have to say to me, especially after that letter you got, Myra. And, hey, she's the one complaining about how stuff never got talked about, so I did some talking.” Chris was grinning her bloodthirsty grin.

Myra and Ginny looked at each other wide-eyed.

“What...Can I ask what you said to her?” ventured Ginny.

“I told her I'd read her letter to you, Myra, and that I thought it reeked of catshit. I told her if there really had been all this hidden sexual agenda between me and whoever, I'd have acted on it a long time ago. I told her I chose her and stuck by her, no matter what, and she'd kicked me in my teeth without giving me a fucking clue she was about to do it, that was the real secret sexual agenda which had occurred. I said she was breaking the hearts of three young people who had loved her without reservation, and that each of the grandkids are still, even now, asking where she is, when she's coming back. I told her if she gets cancer or breaks a hip or anything at all seriously bad happens to her, her professor will find a nice academic excuse to shuck her like a threadbare coat and she will nowhere to turn. Except that of course you two will take her back, not without repouring a foundation and a lot of spackle work, but you'd never desert her the way she deserted us. And I said I still loved her as much as I ever had, but between the chemo and the scalpel and the atomic waves, big chunks of me were gone and maybe, in time, that would include missing how much she'd been a part of my life.”

Chris's eyes burned black in her face for a minute, then welled over. She lay her face in her broad hands and said “I meant every word” as she fought against crying. “When I woke up alone this morning, I felt like dying all over again.”

“You should have let me sleep with you, I really wanted to” said Myra with a wrench in her chest.

“I needed to find out what was there” said Chris. “You can sleep with me tonight, though, that's for damned sure.”

Myra sat on one side of her, Ginny on the other, patting her back and hair as they talked over the day's plans.

“You're a prime number this year, Kash-Kash” said Myra.

“Wonder why the mail hasn't come yet?” said Chris.

Ginny said gently “It's Veteran's Day this year. No mail until tomorrow.”

Chris tried to hide her disappointment. “Well, as long as you all hired a stripper for the party tonight.”

Myra kissed her, laughing. “Actually, I'm going to do the honors.”

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Jesse Wendel said...


This is good work all the way down.

Not just the writing and plot, but the people...they BREATHE. They live.

*hugs Maggie*